Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Book Report: I Can't Think of a Theme

I haven't done a book report in a while, mostly because I've been obsessively reading Terry Pratchett lately, and I'm pretty much the last to the game there, so there's not much point in reporting on those books, and most of the other books I've read I haven't really liked enough to want to recommend them to others.

But I do have a new release to talk about. Alan Dean Foster's latest Pip and Flinx adventure, Patrimony, comes out today, and I've already read it. In fact, I read it weeks ago. Remember how stressed I was about getting copy edits later than I was expecting, but still having them due on the same date, and that happening to come in the week when I had a convention, jury duty and the Browncoat Ball -- and yet I still got them done in time? Well, I guilted my editor into snagging an advance copy for me as a reward for generally being awesome.

I've been reading this series since I was about nine years old, and now it's winding down (I believe the next book will be the last) and finally answering some of the big questions. I'd describe it as being almost like a science fiction Harry Potter. It's about an orphan with a mysterious (even to him) past and some uncanny abilities he doesn't quite understand. He also has an empathic flying snake as a pet (I don't even like snakes, but I love Pip). The series takes him from the age of about 15 until now when he's in his 20s, and it's mostly about the adventures he has along the way while he tries to track down information on his birth, and especially an explanation for what's going on in his head. Alan's (yes, I'm now on a first-name basis) strength is world building, as he creates some very cool ecosystems and inhabitants on each world Flinx visits. This book's world strikes me as being likely based on Alaska, which was fun to read, as my parents went there in August. Flinx finally has some information on who his father might be, and this information is so important to him that he considers it worth a detour on his mission to stop the Great Void that may swallow the whole galaxy. It's a good adventure yarn in a harsh alien setting, with a few plot twists that are fun for long-term readers of the series. Now I can't wait for the next book, and I hope I can still find some strings to pull to get an early copy.

Then for something entirely different, I found Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity by John Stossel on the New in Non-Fiction shelf at the library. Stossel,a correspondent for 20/20, takes a look at a lot of conventional wisdom, those ideas that are commonly accepted as true -- and especially reported by the media as fact. He looks at things like whether getting cold and wet will give you a cold (false), whether banning DDT saved lives (actually, millions in malaria-stricken areas have died because of the ban), and all those jokes about women drivers (women are statistically much safer drivers than men). Some of it is amusing, but the chapters on public education and lawsuits are rather chilling. He's pretty good at backing up his conclusions with data, but even if you disagree with the conclusions he's drawn from that data, I think that at least reconsidering the things that you think are true is good exercise for the brain. There's also some interesting consumer advice, like tests for purity and blind taste tests of tap water vs. bottled water (you can save a lot of money), taste tests for premium coffee brands (really expensive gourmet coffee tends to score low in blind tests) and how to shop to best take advantage of warehouse clubs (they're not always a money saver if you aren't careful). It's all written in a very conversational, entertaining style and was a pretty quick read.

I also re-read Stardust by Neil Gaiman, and this may be quasi-blasphemy, but I think I like the way the story played out better in the movie. I still love the book, and the writing is gorgeous, but the movie added so many clever little touches that I kind of missed when I re-read the book.

Now I'm back to Terry Pratchett, so it may be a while before I have another book report.

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